A New and Delicate Balance Ch. 02byangiquesophie©
I went to work again, but after two days I took all the leave I had a right to. I avoided asking my boss directly, as seeing him was the main reason I could not function anymore. His secretary told me he didn't mind, but maybe I should not bother to return at all.
I started to reel in a few long standing appointments for interviews at other agencies. I also went looking for a more permanent place to live. It gave me things to do, hours to fill and reasons to get out of bed for.
Empty moments were scarce. It suited me.
I did not want to hear Elaine's voice again or see her face. So I sent her an e-mail. I wrote her I planned to start divorce procedures. "Planned" might be the right word. I had not really done anything to start anything. I just could not get around the very idea of divorcing Elaine. It felt alien. In a way it felt as if I were stooping to a level she and I should never even consider.
Yes, I am a hopeless romantic.
The apartment was small, but relatively clean, newly decorated and close to the new agency. They had told me I was welcome first of next month (be it at a lower salary). It also was rather expensive, but I had no inclination to pay one more penny for our old home. If she could stand to live there, let her pay for it. She earned enough anyway.
I got a constant stream of messages on my cell asking me to return to her. She even added please. She also clogged my laptop with emails containing the same message. I never answered, until, after another week, I got fed up. I let her know she could talk to me one more time. I also told her there was no need to repeat her gibberish about loving me, like last time. She'd better cut the bullshit and come clean with me. I liked that line, it made me feel a bit like Dirty Harry, although I knew she would not make my day ever again. Or night, for that matter.
* * * * *
The restaurant was rather dark and did not have many customers. It might be because of the food, but that wasn't my main concern there and then. I think she had chosen the place just because it was quiet and had a few rather secluded booths. She waited in one of them and waved at me as I entered.
She looked subdued and rather pale. She still wore her business suit, in contrast to my very casual gear. I slid into the booth to sit in front of her. She asked me how I was and I had to laugh at that. She blushed when I did.
"We know we both feel great, Elaine. Now tell me what you drink and I'll get it."
She asked for mineral water. I got a beer for myself.
"So, darling. A hundred messages told me you wanted to talk to me. I am all ears."
She searched for my eyes.
"Please, Eric. No sarcasm."
I took a gulp of my beer.
"Sorry. It is just hard not to, darling. Please tell me how you cheated on me and why."
She stared into her glass. She took a deep breath. Then she looked up.
"I met Jason at a photo-shoot. He is a model. I was impressed by his body and his suave, easygoing way. He is quite witty, actually."
She paused and blushed at that, then mumbled sorry.
"Don't be sorry," I said. "No need for that anymore, if there ever was."
She winced. After a second she went on.
"Well, we ended up in a hotel bar and he got me to go up to his room. There we had...ehm, did..."
"There you let him fuck your brain out and he was amazing, He had incredible stamina, a long thick cock and he made you feel things you never felt before and scream as you never did with me," I added.
A tear formed in the corner of her eye.
"Tears? Please, really, Elaine," I said. " It was just sex, girl. You told me, remember? Great sex, right what the doctor ordered. You can call it by its name, no harm done, darling. At least not anymore. So what happened after?"
She sipped from her glass, maybe to compose herself.
"We met a few times after that."
"A few times? A few times a week, you mean?"
She didn't answer.
"How long did it go on until I spoiled it all?"
"A few weeks," she said.
"A few, a few," I couldn't help but echo.
She looked helpless.
"I really thought it would not mean a thing to our marriage. It didn't for me. I loved you just as much. Did I ever give you the feeling you came in second?" she asked.
"Ever?" I said. "That sounds like a lot longer than a few times or a few weeks, honey."
"Oh, no, no...", she hurried to answer, but her eyes were all over the place.
I grabbed her hand, squeezing it to get her attention.
"I know, Elaine. Don't worry about the delicacy of your lies. I know you have been fucking behind my back for years, two at least. And not just with pretty boy Jason."
She gasped. I went on.
"Elaine, I believe you when you say it did not matter to you where you and I were concerned. I believe that you really saw it that way. You saw no danger for our marriage, you don't even see it now, do you? I truly believe that you never felt different about me. You could curl up in my arms and talk about having my child, knowing that you would let yourself be fucked by my boss at that party the very next day."
Her face turned crimson. I took a gulp of my beer and continued.
"One night, remember? You came home dripping with the sperm of Everett, my best friend. You were right in time to shower and dress for our seventh anniversary party."
I almost felt sorry for her. Almost.
"Elaine," I said. "I believe you. Your love for me never lessened. Your esteem stayed the same, as did your respect. And that was easy, cause it meant exactly NOTHING!!"
My sudden scream made her start. Her glass fell, spraying her lap with water. I handed her my napkin.
After a while I ordered a new glass of water and a beer.
"Well," I said. "That being out of the way, what exactly did you want to tell me, Elaine? That you wish for me to come home, or at least to the place where you live? That we should get over it, so you can find new models, bosses and best friends to fuck?"
"Eric," she said and started to sob.
"Be honest, girl. My God, for once be honest with me."
"Eric, please. I can't help it. There is this, this great, deep love for you. It is true, Eric, I love you deeply...always have."
I gave no reaction at all. My finger ran around the rim of my glass.
"And then there is this, this thing with my body..."
She paused, looking away embarrassed.
"It needs, Eric. My body needs raw, hard sex and lots of it. The more sex I get, the more I need."
There was a sudden fire in her eyes, like a fever. I groaned, pushing away the glass.
"Elaine. You see...no, I guess you don't. So let me show you the utter bullshit of your words."
I allowed for a short silence, watching her. Then I went on.
"Darling, I sometimes have this need too, you know. The need to punch a damn client on his fat asshole nose. Or I sometimes have this urge to get out of my car and smash the face of the man who almost drove into me. I sometimes want to kill someone, lately even someone I thought I loved..."
She started. I continued.
"But you see, Elaine: I did not and I don't. Needs can be suppressed, honey, urges can be overruled. It is called restraint, civilization, decency...love..."
Her eyes now begged. Her head sunk between her shoulders. She looked so much younger, a child. Her voice rose into a whining.
"But I tried, honey! I really fought so hard, but there is no use. You asked if I had turned crazy when I told you that it was exactly for saving our love that I needed this...this hard sex on the side. It is true! It keeps me sane, honey. It saves my balance, it lets me be the caring, loving wife you deserve. I need you, Eric. I need your love and I need to love you. Please don't take that away from me. I'll die, honey. I'll die!"
I gaped at her as if at a rare specimen in a zoo. I had lived for nine years with this woman and knew nothing about her.
"Elaine..after nine years you tell me this. After a year of dating and eight years of marriage. Eight years of being together in the closest way two people can. You fought, you say. And never, ever did you ask me to fight with you, to help you. To use our love to shield you. All that time you never even hinted at it."
"I was ashamed," she muttered, looking away.
A cloud of hot denseness closed around my head and my field of vision. I looked at her until my eyes strained. Around her shone a halo, blotting out all of the background.
I must have fallen off my chair. My head hurt. There was something soft under it. A pillow? A hand? Two eyes were hovering over mine, soft hair caressing my face.
"You fainted," a voice said. "Are you all right?"
It was Elaine. Behind her I saw a waitress. Reality returned to me. I drank from the water she offered.
I thanked her. Then I pushed her away to get to my feet.
"Sorry for that," I muttered. "I have to leave."
She grabbed my arm, pulled herself against me.
"Don't Eric. Don't leave me. I can't be in that awfully empty house alone. Can't be there without you. I just can't."
I shrugged and tried to get her off me.
"Then fill it, whore," I hissed. "Pack it with all the meat you need. Send a few emails, place a few calls and you'll never fuck alone, honey."
She looked as if I had struck her face. Her mouth hung open.
I pushed her away.
"Let me know when you lack supply, Elaine. I might know a few guys. Should I first ask for size?"
Ah, God, how I hated myself watching her run off and leave the restaurant. I stared at my dead beer.
* * * * *
The phone call came in the night. It woke me from the deep well of a booze-induced sleep. It was Cynthia, Elaine's best friend.
I groaned something that might have sounded like a yes.
"Elaine is in hospital. She has cut her wrists, but she made a mess of it. She'll be all right. She asked for you."
Damn, that woke me.
"Oh, God, no!" I croaked and got out of bed.
"Where is she?"
She told me and I slipped on some clothes. Ten minutes later I walked down a coldly lit, sterile corridor.
She looked awfully small and white as paper. There were drips and tubes. And there was the sick and hostile smell of hospitals. Cynthia was there too. She hugged me. She is a petite brunette with just enough overweight to disarm the sting of wickedness in her eyes.
I sat next to the bed, watching Elaine's closed eyes. There was a blueish shadow around them. She looked like someone I had never seen. Vulnerable, distant.
Then her eyes opened. A smile came to her pale lips.
"Eric," she whispered. "You are here."
I could not help but caress her cheek. She pushed her face into it like a kitten. I knew why she smiled. I knew why she had put the blade to her wrists. It weighed on me like lead.
"Shhhh," I said. "Don't talk. Get better."
"Stay," she said. "Please stay."
My eyes found Cynthia's.
"I can't," I said. "Take care of her. I really can't."
And I fled.
It rained outside. It was still dark, but the city woke around me. Cars splashed water, plumes of steam rose at the corners of the street. I turned into a small and plastic place to have some coffee. It tasted awful, exactly as it should.
Goddammit, I thought. Will she shy away from nothing? Blackmailing me with her life. Where have I been all these years? Who was I living with? Love, she says. If this is love, who needs hate?
I never realized that I wasn't thinking, but speaking. Must have looked pretty silly. My only audience was a tired middle-aged waitress in a silly pink outfit. She smiled sweetly with shockingly pink lips. Then she walked over and added some new asphalt to the horror at the bottom of my plastic cup. I smiled at her, mechanically.
"Been a hard night, sweetie?" she asked. She had an unexpectedly warm and caring voice. It not at all matched her almost whorishly painted eyes and bleached hair. Let alone her mouth.
"Thank you," I said and returned my gaze to the wetness outside. Someone else might have found ways to let the woman into his privacy. I never was very good at that.
* * * * *
A week later the voicemails and the emails came in again. I had started at the new agency, drowning myself in new impressions, new challenges, as they call it. I clung desperately to the activities. But I knew from the start that there would never be the real interest again that I had felt in the past.
I guess girls smell it when a guy has lost his attachments. They were all over me and there were lots of them. It took me a while to understand that they were really after me. In high school or college I had never been the natural target for female attention. So it was hard for me to believe I might be worthwhile.
There was this tradition at the new agency to gather at Friday nights in a neighbourhood bar and have a few drinks. The first time I declined the invitations to attend. But the second week I went. It was good to be amongst people again. Especially nice and friendly people who have a good time.
I drank too much rather quickly. This last month had taught me that it was the shortest way out of my gloom and into an easier world. Aisha, a dark eyed girl of Middle Eastern origin, stayed my hand when I wanted to order another scotch.
"Have a beer," she said. "And get me one too."
Somehow we ended up at her place, a tiny Brooklyn flat she shared with a roommate, who wasn't in. We had sex and she was sweet. I guess I was pretty rotten, but she never complained.
Afterwards we lay together on her rather narrow bed. She seemed to have a soft spot for yellow. And for frills. Well, it surely set off her olive skin nicely.
"Thank you, Aisha," I said. "You sure know how to make a gloomy, uptight guy relax."
I made tiny circles around one of her pretty nipples. She laughed.
"The girls call you Grumpy, you know?" she said. "But I think you are nice enough." She laid her hand on mine and pressed it down on her breast.
Well, again a lot of guys would have spilled their beans with a sweet girl like Aisha, but I am not that type. I just kissed her, got up and dressed.
My apartment was waiting for me, yawning and empty. The patient little red eye on my telephone blinked to tell me I had voicemail. I took a shower and got a book to read.
It slid from my hand a few minutes later.
Next morning the bleak daylight woke me. It shone straight into my face. I felt stiff, climbing out of the chair that had been my bed for the night. The familiar velvet of sweet depression sank all over me again.
A run in the Park? Ah, well, no.
"Fuck off, Everett!"
"Sorry you say? Ah yes. I think I know that word."
"No, I am fine."
End of phone call.
Silence. And some more.
"That's all right, Cynthia."
"Thank you for being there."
"I appreciate it, Cynthia."
"Good to hear she is fine."
"No, I think not."
End of second phone call.
Silence. And some more.
A number. I must have it somewhere.
"Aisha? Eric here."
"Care for a movie?"
"Ah yes, I see. Maybe another time then."
"Bye, Aisha. Have fun."
Music. Loud music.
Monday arrived at last. It waded towards me through a sea of drinks and TV reruns. At work Aisha had returned to being just another face in the crowd again. I shrugged and plunged into the first meeting.
That night Cynthia was at my door. She must have noted my annoyed face, as she said: "I know, Eric. I am sorry to bother, but this can't go on like it does."
I let her in, asking what she'd like to drink. I poured her a juice and opened a can of beer myself.
"She loves you, Eric," Cynthia started.
I immediately yelled at her.
"I KNOW!! Dammit Cynthia, that word will make me throw up soon. She loves me! She loves me! Sorry, sir, would you kindly remove your fat cock from my wife's mouth long enough so that she can say she LOVES me??"
Cynthia was struck dumb by my aggression. I apologized.
"Sorry, Cyn. I should not have. Not your fault."
She shrugged. "Well," she said. "I guess you have a point there, though. This is the weirdest situation I have ever been in. But it is true, the damn slut loves you."
I finished half of the beer.
"What the fuck, Cynthia. Care to come with me and have a bite? Maybe a bit of music later on?"
She grinned. "Why not?"
We went to a Mexican place and had some fiery food that we extinguished with a few ice cold Coronas. I knew Cynthia ever since I had met Elaine. They were best friends and their friendship survived our marriage easily. I liked Cynthia. I always knew she was a lesbian. I also knew that she and Elaine might have been more than friends. But somehow it never brought up jealousy, not with her nor with me.
I loved her direct ways and great sense of humour. We had a wonderful time that night, ending up in a tiny bar in the Village. We were surrounded by the most extravagant transvestites, all in some way friends or acquaintances of Cynthia's.
Around two in the morning the place emptied and we were among the last patrons, hugging our mean brandies.
"You know, Eric," Cynthia said with a rather crowding tongue. "For years you have been the best thing ever happening to Elaine. And to me, for that matter."
I looked at her through a haze of alcohol and smoke.
"Yes. You see...," she slurred. "She allowed me to help her fight a bit too, those first years."
I stared. The meaning of what she said took a while to get through my rather thickened head.
"I see," I said, then. "What made you lose that battle that she never invited me into?"
"I guess she never really wanted to win, Eric. I know her since we were twelve. Elaine always got what she wanted. And she wanted a lot. She never had to fight for something or someone. She never had to save money or wait until she could have something. She is spoilt rotten."
I knew she was right. It must have been very strange for Elaine that she had to do all that mincing and saving when we married. Her grandparents had set up a huge trust fund for her, but I never allowed her to use a cent of that for our mutual household. She did not understand, but she went along with it, saving for things to buy or carefully looking out for bargains.
For me it came natural. For her it must all have been rather exotic. But she complied and I always thought it gave her the same satisfaction it gave me. The satisfaction of having earned a thing.
Once more: romantic me, I guess.
Later on we walked the empty streets. The city was preparing for the holidays. It was rather cold, so I held Cynthia for some theoretical extra warmth.
She told me a lot about their teenage years. They sounded rather wild. When we reached her apartment she invited me in, but I kissed her cheek, excusing myself with an early rise and a lot of work.
She shrugged. "Thanks, Eric. I needed this evening."
"So did I," I assured her and kissed her, just a bit longer than I intended.
Quite a load had been taken off my chest when I walked on. It would last at least for a few hours.
* * * * *
In the next days and nights I found that I could for short times think of Elaine without wanting to flee the subject. Old and fond memories returned where first had only been this fucking wild animal, screaming her need for raw, primitive sex. Or just an empty void.
To my own amazement I felt a yearning to see her. It surprised me and at first I wanted to push it away. But it persisted.
I found a perfect excuse. There were still a few personal things of mine left in Elaine's apartment. I had not needed them these first weeks, but they were mine and meant a lot to me. So I went over and phoned from the street up. She never answered, which suited me well. I even felt relieved. Officially I only came for my things, didn't I?